WASHINGTON — The United States on Aug. 3 criticized China’s establishment of a new military garrison in the South China Sea as it called on all sides to lower tensions in the hotly contested waters.
China announced last week that it was establishing the tiny city of Sansha and a garrison on an island in the disputed Paracel chain, infuriating Vietnam and the Philippines, which have accused Beijing of intimidation.
“We are concerned by the increase in tensions in the South China Sea and are monitoring the situation closely,” U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement.
“In particular, China’s upgrading of the administrative level of Sansha city and establishment of a new military garrison there covering disputed areas of the South China Sea run counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region,” he said.
Ventrell also pointed to “confrontational rhetoric” and incidents at sea, saying: “The United States urges all parties to take steps to lower tensions.”
China says it controls much of the South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam all claim portions. Vietnam and the Philippines have accused China of stepping up harassment at sea.
The U.S. has rallied behind Southeast Asian nations — strengthening military ties with the Philippines and Vietnam — as Washington looks to expand its influence in a region where China is increasingly assertive.
During a 2010 visit to Vietnam, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the U.S. had a national interest in freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, through which half of world cargo passes.
Ventrell reiterated that the U.S. has an interest in stability and “unimpeded lawful commerce” in the South China Sea but that Washington does not take a position on rival claims.
China also has separate disputes with U.S. ally Japan in the East China Sea.
Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto was holding talks in Washington on Aug. 3.